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Alamo Excavation Team Digs For Lost Walls

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Principal investigators and engineers will dig for three weeks in hopes of finding the lost walls of the Alamo complex

The Alamo grounds are now an archeological dig site as engineers search for the original south and western walls of the mission. This is part of the Alamo’s master plan and redevelopment after reaching status as a World Heritage site.

With a surgeon’s precision, engineers are digging around what is believed to be the outer boundaries of the Alamo to gather missing pieces of its history. Nesta Anderson is the lead investigator at the site.

“The master plan is in full swing and as part of the master plan they are asking some questions about what we know about the Alamo, and the answer with the archeology is not as much as you’d think.”

This excavation is the first step in creating the Alamo’s master plan which will determine how to develop the original Alamo site.  Kay Hindes, is the city archeologist.

“To re-imagine the Alamo we first have to rediscover it, so the work that we’re doing here is to try to determine the exact compound walls and to confirm those in the ground.”

The Alamo is known as the Shrine of Texas Liberty. Here in 1836, 180 defenders died facing Mexican General Santa Anna’s army in the fight for Texas independence. At least that’s the story most people know. But Becky Dinnin, executive director of the Alamo says there’s history even historians don’t know.

“It’s the first time that we’ve put all of the Texas history timeline of this site itself all together. A lot of great things have been written but it hasn’t all been pieced together and we have found there have been some gaps. So the history timeline of the scholarship that’s the studied we’re putting that together. That will be an outcome of this process.”

The Alamo Mission was built in the 1700s and was originally called the Mission San Antonio De Valero. Modern day San Antonio was built around the Alamo and through time some of the original boundary walls were lost.

There are two construction sites. One in front of the Alamo and the other across the street. Anderson says they’re using old archival maps and maps from a 1979 dig by the University of Texas at San Antonio to determine where to dig.

“We hope to find evidence of the west wall at this location, the south wall across the street, and evidence of hopefully the battle period, the mission before that, the Native Americans who were living here and working at the mission and possibly even things related to the Catholic priests who were here at the mission.”

Anderson says it’s entirely possible they’ll find artifacts dating back 10,000 years. They may even find human remains which have been found on the Alamo grounds before.

“We are stewards of the people of Texas and so we are very conscious to treat everything with respect.”

The plan is to dig 10 centimeters at a time. Much of the walls have crumbled, so how will investigators know when they’ve found something?

“It’s going to appear like the adobe, it appears like hardened mud. It’s different from the soil around it and it’s in a linear shape that helps us distinguish between the surrounding area. Or if it’s gone, sometimes we just have a soil stain and it’s just a color difference that will help us know.”

For Anderson’s team, rediscovering the Alamo is a job many archeologists dream of.

“This is one of the big ones that comes along once in a lifetime so we are all very excited to be part of this team.”

The investigators will keep the public informed about discoveries with a daily address at 10:30 am. The Alamo Master Plan was commissioned by the City of San Antonio, Texas General Land Office, and the Alamo Endowment. The City is investing $17 million and the State has put in $31 million for its redevelopment. The digging will last about a month. The master plan will be finalized in the next year.